Breed Labels: When Guesses Turn Into Predictions

As we travel around the country, having conversations with shelters and rescues about the “pit bull” dogs in their care, we find that there are always a few big a-ha! moments that help people understand that all dogs are individuals just a bit better.

One of the more exciting moments typically happens during our Labels & Language presentation where we discuss the role of breed labeling in shelters and the assumptions we make about dogs based on those labels.

The focus of the talk is to help shelters understand a number of concepts that apply not only to “pit bull” dogs, but to ALL the dogs in their care. This one being of utmost importance:

How a dog is labeled or how they look on the outside, is not an indication of past or future behavior or their suitability for a particular adoption placement.

Too often we make incorrect assumptions about dogs based on label or appearance.

Thanks to ample research, we know that visual breed identification of dogs is highly inaccurate. One study found that the breed labels assigned to shelter dogs by staff members were wrong at least 75% of the time.

Despite this, shelters continue to use breed labels. This is problematic because the highly inaccurate labels we assign to dogs result in people speculating about how dogs will behave or what kind of family they’ll need.

We’re using guesses to make predictions.

labels and perceptions

This approach leads to significant unintended consequences for all dogs, not just “pit bull” dogs.

Just recently we were at a shelter observing a photo shoot for a dog’s adoption profile. One person commented that the dog, a mutt, had black spots on his tongue so he was probably a Chow mix. If the speculation had stopped there, it wouldn’t have been much of a problem – maybe the guess was right or maybe not. We can certainly share our guesses. There’s nothing wrong with that!

But the guess quickly led to a discussion about how this dog might behave based on that label (independent, aloof) and therefore what kind of family he would need (not a good choice for a first time owner).

Rather than pay attention to the dog in front of us at that moment, who was enjoying getting his photo taken, the conversation took off with assumptions and predictions based on a breed description that may or may not apply to this individual dog.

A guess turned into a prediction.

If instead of speculating, we were more present in observing the animal in different situations, like how this dog was relaxed and social during a photo shoot, we’d realize that our assumptions are often way off base.

With nearly 75% of all shelter dogs reported as mixed breed dogs and with a 75% chance that shelter workers will make an incorrect guess at what that breed mix is, it’s clear that we’re making a lot of incorrect assumptions about the dogs in our care.

This is why we advocate for the removal of breed labels in shelters, a trend that’s gaining steam with progressive organizations in 2016.

Maybe you’re still not convinced. It helps to look at the science and research.

Many of you have seen our infographic All Dogs Are Individuals where we put revealed the science of why breed and appearance alone are not accurate indicators of future behavior.

But in our live presentations we often find that one series of photos really drives the point home that our unreliable breed guesses aren’t the basis for accurate predictions of future behavior.

Take a look at the following slides:

In 1965 Scott and Fuller published Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog based on their research.

scott fuller

If these dogs came into your shelter, what breed mix would assume these two dogs are? And what assumptions would you make about how they will behave in the future?

Unlike in real life, where we often don’t know the parents of the mixed breed dogs that arrive in our shelters, we do know the genetic makeup of these two pups:

scott fuller

The two black and white puppies are a cross between a purebred Basenji and a purebred Cocker Spaniel!

Clearly, the puppies do not physically resemble either parent. But it doesn’t stop there…

When the puppies were backcrossed to either of the parental breeds – a purebred Basenji or a purebred Cocker Spaniel – those litters showed even more variability in physical appearance. See for yourself:

scott fuller

These photos are helpful because they make it crystal clear that our breed guesses, based on visual appearance, are highly inaccurate.

We make labeling mistakes all the time and those mistakes have real consequences.

But we don’t have to take Scott and Fuller’s word for it.

More current research, such as the 2015 study titled Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff, continues to serve as a reminder that breed guesses and labels, even those made my experienced shelter staff and veterinarians, are frequently incorrect. The results of the study revealed that “one in five dogs genetically identified with pit bull heritage breeds were missed by all shelter staff at the time of the study. One in three dogs lacking DNA evidence for pit bull heritage breeds were labeled pit bull-type dogs by at least one shelter staff member.”

We’re so often wrong when we make guesses about dog breeds. Yet those labels are powerful.

We allow them to influence our perceptions and predict future behavior or suitability for adoption into certain homes. This can lead to poor matches in regards to energy and temperament for adopters, along with more serious consequences, such as restrictions based on breed.

The bottom line is that labels aren’t reliable and they don’t tell us what we need to know about dogs. Rather than focus on labels and perceived breed, get to know the individual dog in front of you instead!

 

kennel cards

Use our sign and language to help explain this to your adopters!

More on this topic:

How to drop breed labels at shelters

FAQS about labels (including: how to address breed specific restrictions and insurance issues honestly with adopters and in software systems).

A look at another shelter that droped labels

 

 

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Programs and Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

3 New Grant Opportunities for 2016

Just a few weeks ago we reopened our Grants Application and that means now is the time for you to apply for funding! If your shelter or organization is working to providing equal opportunities and treatment for the dogs in your care, then you won’t want to miss out on this opportunity to apply for a 2016 grant award.

Not only are we funding marketing initiatives and kennel enrichment programs, as we have in past years, but we’ve also added three new awards this year as well.

Let’s take a look:

If your shelter needs help revamping policies and programs, our Shelter Policy Training Grant might be just what you’re looking for.

AFF will help your shelter save more lives with breed-neutral best practices through presentations, training, and program implementation guidance. We’ll help your staff enact the practical, low or no-cost solutions that work in a variety of sheltering environments (from large, open-intake facilities to limited admission private shelters and even small volunteer-run rescue groups). Learn more here.

If your shelter is ready to rock play groups, but you don’t have the fenced yards to host them in, our Play Yard Construction Grant might be right up your alley!

Animal sheltering organizations currently creating or implementing permanent play group programs for the enrichment and socialization of their shelter dogs may be eligible for up to $10,000 to be used for the repair or construction of play yards. Learn more here.

play yard fencing

If your shelter is ready to take marketing to the next level, our Perfect Exposure Project (PEP) Grant might be just the right fit!

Shelters can apply for the opportunity to work with representatives from HeARTs Speak to improve adoption marketing for all of the animals in their care. Organizations will receive a two day on-site training at their facility, where HeARTs Speak representatives will provide hands-on help in areas such as photography and social media marketing.

This is a limited opportunity and the only grant that has a deadline for applications: organizations must submit applications for the PEP Grant no later than March 31st, 2016. Learn more here.

PEP-11

AFF invests in organizations and programs that support the elimination of discriminatory policies and innovative sheltering practices. If your 501c3 organization is working towards similar goals, with programs and initiatives that treat ALL dogs equally, we encourage you to apply for our grants!


For more information, take a look at our website for detailed grant descriptions, application instructions, and FAQs to help you get started.

Here’s to helping your organization accomplish even more life-saving work in 2016!

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Looking Back on 2015: Service, Play, and Innovation

From movie stars and public service announcements to service dogs and play yards, Animal Farm Foundation has enjoyed a productive year working to secure equal opportunity and treatment for “pit bull” dogs and their families. As 2015 comes to a close, we wanted to take a look back at the highlights from this year.

We’re very pleased to report that the positive trends we’ve shared with you at the end of 2012, 2013, and 2014 are still in full effect! Towns across the country are continuing to veto and repeal Breed Specific Legislation, states are passing preemptions, shelters are dropping blanket restrictions from their adoption policies, and community advocates are busy connecting under-resourced communities and families with much needed pet services.

This continual positive shift for “pit bull” dogs and their families has allowed us to commit even more resources in 2015 to working with a variety of shelters, individuals, and communities on projects such as:

Assistance Dog Program

In 2015 we trained and placed two new assistance dogs, which brings our program’s total to nine rescued “pit bull” dogs who are now working as service dogs around the country. This year we oversaw the placement of two fabulous new teams: Josh and Koda in New York and Fionna and Tonka in California.

Koda is trained to assist Josh, a veteran, with a number of tasks including retrieving objects, helping Josh transfer into and move his wheelchair, seeking help if Josh falls, and interrupting and helping Josh when he’s experiencing anxiety. They just took their first airplane trip together to visit a friend in the Rocky Mountains and also recorded a song with Mary Gauthier!

Joe and Zen

Joe and Zen

Tonka was recently placed with Fionna, a medical fitness trainer who has Multiple Sclerosis. Tonka is trained to help counter balance Fionna when she’s walking, doing stairs, and standing, and applies pressure to help her when she’s experiencing tremors.

We also saw increased coverage of our program, such as People’s interview with Matthew and his assistance dog Jericho and this terrific piece from NBC News about Joe and his assistance dog Zen.  Zen attends school with Joe, a former Marine, helping him to feel calm and comfortable in social settings. Joe says that Zen “always watches his 6” when in public. They, like the rest of the teams, are perfect partners!

AFF has five dogs who are currently in training and we look forward to seeing the good work they do in 2016!

Detection Dog Program

This year Animal Farm Foundation formed a collaboration with Austin Pets Alive! and Universal K9 so that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can be considered for Detection Dog work. Potential detection dog candidates are selected from the Austin Pets Alive! shelter system to participate in training led by Universal K9, located in San Antonio, Texas.

Once there, Brad Croft founder of Universal K9, trains and places the dogs in police departments around the country at no charge. Animal Farm Foundation provides a sponsorship to Universal K9 to help cover the costs of the officer training.

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

In 2015 a total of eight “pit bull” dogs were trained and placed in police departments around the country, from Georgia and Texas to right here in our own backyard of Poughkeepsie, New York.

There has been a ton of positive buzz about the dogs and many of the K9s have their own Facebook pages with growing fan clubs! Along with the others, K9 Kiah has received wonderful media coverage, helping to further dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding “pit bull” dogs.

The Majority Project

In 2015 we relaunched The Majority Project (TMP) with a new website, Facebook page, and a series of Public Service Announcements starring actor Jon Bernthal. The PSAs were aired around the country on radio and television and by mid-November our message had been broadcasted almost 7,000 times with nearly 500,000,000 impressions!

Along with the great news coverage about Jon’s involvement with TMP, this adds up to a very big spotlight on our project. Millions of people got the message in 2015 that the families who live with “pit bull” dogs are everyday people living with everyday dogs.

The thousands of new photos we received in 2015 illustrate the many ways that “pit bull” dog families from around the world are making valuable contributions to their communities and families.

photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

“I am a NICU Nurse and mom.” photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

The PSA is empowering dog owners to stand up against discrimination and breaks down the myth that only criminals and reckless people want “pit bull” dogs (a harmful stereotype that leads to restricted adoption policies, breed specific legislation, and other discriminatory policies). With millions of people meeting The Majority through our PSA we know that this misconception is finally on its way out.

And we’re always accepting submissions on our website, so print out a sign and join us!

Dogs Playing For Life

Dogs Playing for Life! manual

Dogs Playing for Life manual

DPFL kicked off the year with the release of their play group manual which was created with the support of a grant from AFF. The unique manual, which provides shelters with detailed instructions for running play groups, can be downloaded for free from the DPFL website.

To support this life-saving program, AFF awarded more than $30,000 for play yard construction in 2015. Allegany County Animal Shelter in Cumberland, MD, Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, NV, Humane Society of Adams County in West Union, OH, and Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control in West Palm Beach, FL were the main recipients of this year’s play yard grants.

Since 2012, AFF has invested nearly $200,000 for the construction of play yards at 18 shelters across the nation. We believe that play groups change perceptions, save lives, and are a critical component of progressive and humane animal sheltering. We’re proud to fund the construction of spaces that allow these programs to flourish and to support the DPFL team as they travel coast to coast to train shelters in implementing this game-changing program.

Grants and Awards

In 2015 AFF awarded approximately $425,000 in grants to shelters, rescues, and organizations who are committed to providing equal treatment and opportunities for all dogs. We’re thrilled to support innovative work, like the Pets for Life program, as well as the work of many others, such as:

Dogs Out Loud: based in Austin, TX, DOL works to provide training and behavior support services to address the needs of medium and large breed dogs in their local shelters. With help from our grant program, DOL created an innovative new enrichment and training program at Austin Animal Center called The Thinking Walk. Designed to make training and enrichment easy and accessible to all dogs, volunteers, and staff, the walking stations are set up along the front courtyard loop at AAC, a frequently traveled path for canine bathroom breaks and walks.

HeARTs Speak: a global network of photographers, artists, writers, designers, and advocates who work to save homeless animals, HeARTS Speak was awarded a grant from AFF to print one-of-a-kind field guides designed to help shelters boost adoptions. The Shelter Photography Field Guide is now available for purchase with 100% of the proceeds going towards funding HeARTS Speak’s Perfect Exposure Project which provides hands-on photography and marketing training for shelters. Full of inspiration, tips, and tricks for positively promoting pets in shelters, it’s the new must-have shelter resource.

pep

Pit Sisters: based in Jacksonville, FL, Pit Sisters got creative with their pet owner support services and created a Mobile Training Program. By offering free dog training in targeted areas, the program helps to keep pets in their homes and out of shelters. We awarded multiple grants to Pit Sisters for their collaborative, compassionate, and effective work for pets and people in their community, which was extended at the end of the year when they took over the TAILS Program (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills). Now Pit Sisters helps shelter dogs and inmates learn the skills they need to succeed!

Our grant application process begins January 1st, so now is a good time to take a look at our website and familiarize yourself with our grant programs. We look forward to supporting more of you in 2016!

Dutchess County SPCA

Our yearlong collaboration with our local shelter, the Dutchess County SPCA, has focused on helping them move into their new facilities and revamp their adoption program. To support these efforts our shelter staff transferred over to working directly at the DCSPCA on a daily basis as adoption counselors (for both dogs and cats) and provided support with marketing and outreach. Today, our community collaboration continues, but the time has come for our staff to return home to the Farm!

Are you ready to meet your BFF at AFF? Check out just a few of the amazing new dogs here on the Farm!

Are you ready to meet your BFF at AFF? Check out just a few of the amazing new dogs here on the Farm!

We are once again accepting dogs into our own adoption program and currently have a group of wonderful pups – “pit bull” dogs, small dogs and many others – that have recently arrived. We’re looking forward to seeing them and the DCSPCA dogs go home with adopters for the holidays!

We hope that, despite any challenges and setbacks we may all still be facing, the successes and progress made in 2015 will provide inspiration as we continue to move forward in our combined work to create a better world for “pit bull” dogs and the people that love them. We’re excited about the coming year because we know that, with your help, things are going to continue to improve for all pets and their families.

Happy New Year everyone and welcome 2016!

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Programs and Events | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Praise of Normal

Normal. In a world where we’re all jockeying to stand out from the crowd, being normal gets a bad rap. We confuse normal with ordinary and boring.
 
Those of us that love, live with, and advocate for “pit bull” dogs naturally see our dogs as anything but ordinary. In our minds, “pit bull” dogs are uniquely adorable, lovable, and loyal. They’re extraordinary and the world needs to know it!
HSHC-Majority - 10 small

Indiana Family. Photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

 
But here’s a secret: we don’t need anyone to view our dogs as special or different. In fact, seeing our dogs as different has led to all kinds of problems, like breed specific legislation.
 
Helping the public and policymakers understand that “pit bull” dogs are ordinary, normal dogs has always been the goal.
 
“Pit bull” dogs aren’t different or better than other dogs. They’re just dogs.
 
Equal. Average. Normal.
 
And when you think about it, being normal is a huge compliment!
 
Because that’s the wonderful thing about dogs. Just being a normal dog is pretty awesome.
 
Dogs are our best friends. They’re good for our physical health. They reduce our isolation and connect us with others. Some dogs don’t do much at all except sunbathe and drool.  But even that makes our houses a little homier and our lives much richer.
New York Family

New York Family

As advocates, the best gift we can give “pit bull” dogs is to view them and communicate about them as being normal dogs. That’s why we’re no longer granting to “pit bull” dog specific programs. We’ve shifted our grant funding to programs that are inclusive, but not exclusive, to “pit bull” dogs. That means we won’t fund programs that single “pit bull” dogs out by excluding them or focusing solely on them. We insist they get fair treatment, which includes being treated equally:
 
Not better or different than other kinds of dogs.
 
Of course there are some pretty spectacular individual dogs out there doing things beyond the norm. For example, some dogs keep our communities safe. And others are our eyes, ears, and legs, helping us to navigate the world.  
 
Individual dogs are all different. They fall all over the spectrum from heroes and helpers to dogs that are in trouble and in need of our help. But most dogs are hanging out in between the extremes. Just doing normal dogs stuff.
 
We created an entire campaign called The Majority Project that shows off how living with a “pit bull” dog is totally normal! Thousands and thousands of you shared a slice of your everyday lives with your dogs: watching TV, hanging out in the yard, cuddling with your kids, dressed up at the holidays, and all the other little ways “pit bull” dogs are a part of our normal lives. Nothing news-worthy, but the opportunity to be ordinary is really quite wonderful.
Nichelle and Boss Wayne from Mosley, NC.

North Carolina Family

 
Of course each one of us has a special dog that is, no question about it, the best dog that ever lived. But overall, there’s nothing unique about “pit bull” dogs.
 
The only thing that, for now, still separates “pit bull” dogs from all the other dogs is…people. People and the problems we create for them by insisting that they are different and need special regulations and treatment. That’s what continues to be unique to “pit bull” dogs.
 
But the “pit bull” dogs themselves? They’re just ordinary dogs. And they’re patiently waiting for us humans to catch up and recognize this.
 
“Pit bull” dogs deserve to be  cared for and celebrated, not because they are different or special or better than others dogs, but simply because they’re dogs.
 
And normal, ordinary dogs RULE!  
Posted in Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Myth Busted: Pit Bulls Don’t Bite Differently

In recent years, things have been looking up for the dogs we call “pit bulls” and their families. Breed specific legislation is on the way out. Shelters that discriminate against dogs based on appearance are the exception. The old wives tales that fueled canine discrimination have been debunked and dismissed.

Except for one: Some people are still perpetuating the myth that “pit bull” dogs bite differently than other dogs. Unfounded claims persist about the severity and nature of incidents involving “pit bull” dogs versus other types of dogs. Claims about the “unique damage that ‘pit bull’ dogs inflict” are made by individuals or special interest groups with no experience in analyzing dog bite-related injuries or knowledge of dog physiology or behavior.

Let’s bust this myth once and for all.

First, it must be understood that “pit bull” is not a breed. Attempts at legal definitions of what a “pit bull” is are outrageously inconsistent and no breed club or genetic definitions exist at all. Visual identification of dogs of unknown origin is also highly unreliable. Quite frankly, you don’t know a “pit bull” dog when you see one. It’s a highly subjective label with no agreed upon definition.

But even if you think you’re the exception (hint: you’re not) and know a “pit bull” dog when you see one, know this: research shows that breed is a very weak predictor of behavior in modern purebred dogs.  Modern dogs are bred almost exclusively for appearance. If you think that two dogs who look identical will behave the same (including how and when they bite), you’ve shown a profound lack of sophistication in understanding dog breeding and genetics. Even cloned dogs – all the same DNA – don’t behave identically.

Yet some still insist we can predict how hard a dog will bite or what sort of damage he will do based on his physical appearance.

The result is false statements like: They don’t bite more often, but if a pit bull does bite, he’s far more likely to inflict serious injuries than most other breeds. Or, since their jaws are different than other dogs, they cause more damage when they do bite. And, they don’t inhibit their bites, so they may cause injury more often than other dogs. Or this tired myth, pound for pound pit bulls have the strongest jaws of any animal.

These statement are FALSE. They’re all baseless. No such claim has ever been demonstrated anywhere in the scientific literature!

And yet they are often repeated by medical authors and legislators who have no knowledge of dog behavior or even of the origin of these myths.  Most of these ideas, in fact, can be traced back to the claims made to a reporter for the LA Times in 1980, by an individual identified only as “the dog fighter.”[i]   One story has spawned decades of myths. Thanks a lot, Internet.

While it is widely observed among dog professionals that individual dogs vary in bite and fight “styles” (that is, when the dogs are upset enough to bite), there has been no academic study of this and certainly not with regard to breed differences. Even general conflict and self-defense behavior can’t be shown to vary according to breed, so it’s implausible in the extreme that a very specific subset of behavior, like duration of sustaining a bite, would have breed correlations.

Nor is there any credible data on bite injury severity by breed. Some reports by physicians make the claim that “pit bull” dogs are over-represented among severe injury cases, but all rely on visual breed identifications which research proves is unreliable. This is unsurprising, as the most comprehensive study to date of dog bite related fatalities has demonstrated that even in these intensely investigated cases, it is impossible to reliably identify the breed(s) of dog(s) involved in the vast majority of cases. [ii] Newspaper reporters, doctors, legislators, even so-called dog professionals continue to perpetuate these myths based on hearsay, hype, and unreliable information.

There are no facts to back up the oft-repeated claim that “pit bull” dogs bite differently or cause more damage than other dogs.

Wildly varying claims are also made regarding the potential closing pressure of dogs’ jaws. The results of the handful of studies that have looked at this are ambiguous at best.

What is clear is that no scientist has ever found anything even remotely close to the ridiculous claim that “pit bull” jaws have the capacity to bite with 2700 psi. Never.

The research that does exist is an offshoot of studies of other species, mainly attempts to determine how much force an animal may be able to apply in eating his food.  Across species, the general finding is that the pressure available matches what’s needed for the particular food available. Along these lines, a few scientists have attempted to measure potential jaw force in dogs.  Neither of the two study groups that specify breeds include any dogs identified as “pit bulls.”

[iv] Ellis JL, et.al. (2009). Cranial dimensions and forces of biting in the domestic dog. Journal of Anatomy 214. 362-373.

[iv] Ellis JL, et.al. (2009). Cranial dimensions and forces of biting in the domestic dog. Journal of Anatomy 214. 362-373.

So any bite force claim regarding “pit bull” dogs is simply made up, or perhaps the product of some unscientific backyard “experiment” reminiscent of the shadowy figure of “the dog fighter,” to whom so much of this mythology can be attributed.

The actual findings that do exist among dogs in general can range from 13 to 1394 Newtons.  “Newtons,” a way to quantify force, is the unit of measure consistently used in such studies, not pounds per square inch, a measure of pressure which no studies use.

Stick with us here: Four different methods of studying jaw force have been tried.  One method has been to perform a geometric analysis of potential leverage based on the top and bottom jaw structures.[iii],[iv]  A second method has been to electrically stimulate the jaw muscles of anesthetized dogs to close, focusing on various muscle groups.[v] This yields the highest numbers, presumably because unconsciousness renders a dog less concerned about breaking his teeth or even his actual jaw bones.  These two methods attempt to measure how much pressure a dog would have at his disposal should he choose to use maximum force, which no one in behavior, by the way, thinks dogs normally do in conflict situations.  A third method involves hooking up electrodes to the jaw muscles of a dog chewing a bone.[vi]  And finally, a device called a transducer has been contrived to sense the force exerted on a chew object offered to a dog.[vii]

Some of these have been applied to compare potential jaw pressure of varying sizes and skull shapes. These four different methods yield different results. The anesthetized dog method, for example, has found that bite force increases if not proportionately, at least significantly, with the size of the dog and with shorter jaws and wider skulls in medium and large dogs. Other studies don’t find this.

Among the few studies that specify breeds of the subjects, one tested two Rottweilers of similar size: one dog bit down on the rawhide covered “transducer” with more than three times the force of the other.[viii]  There has even been a rather silly attempt to loosely apply this study technique for the entertainment of television audiences, by putting a pressure sensing device into a heavy Kevlar sleeve which the handler then entices three dogs of different breeds to grab onto and shake as if his arm were a tug toy, without any way of knowing what part of the object was being borne down on, which teeth were being brought to bear (real studies always distinguish between pressure from molars and canines) or even the effect of the varying weights of the dogs on how much pressure they would need to hang on. In this case, it was solemnly concluded that the “pit bull’s” jaw pressure was less than that of the German Shepherd Dog or the Rottweiler, but this finding renders the “experiment” no less foolish.

But not one single study backs up the bite force claims about dogs that are constantly cited in media, ordinances, and sloppy scholarship in studies of dog bite injuries. NOT ONE.

All dogs, of any breed, mix, or size, with teeth have the ability to significantly harm us if they choose to do so. They very seldom do. Conflicts between dogs and people are highly ritualized, at least from the dog’s side.  In other words, dogs typically “pull their punches,” even when trying to influence our behavior by using their teeth.  The technical term for this is acquired bite inhibition (ABI). No one believes that this learned behavior is in any way breed specific.

Finally, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) exhaustive review of dog bite studies conducted in North America and elsewhere has concluded that, “Serious bites occur due to a range of factors,” and that separate regulation based on breed is not a basis for preventing such dog bites.

To put it simply:

No dog is biologically equipped with a unique jaw structure, locking mechanism, biting mechanism or “style” that would differentiate them from other breeds of dogs.

No scientific research exists to substantiate the myth that “pit bull” dogs bite differently or more severely.

It’s time to put an end to this last myth.

 

Resources regarding effective approaches to reducing dog bite-related incidents can be found here.


 

[i] “Prosecutors win convictions in tough area: pit bull fighting,” Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1982

[ii] Patronek, et.al. 2013. Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243 (12), 1726-1736.

[iii] Ellis, JL, et.al. (2008). Calibration of estimated biting forces in domestic canids: comparison of post-mortem and in vivo measurements. Journal of Anatomy 212. 769-780

[iv] Ellis JL, et.al. (2009). Cranial dimensions and forces of biting in the domestic dog. Journal of Anatomy 214. 362-373.

[v] Ellis, 2008.

[vi] Dessem, D. et.al, (1988) Interactions between jaw-muscle recruitment and jaw-joint forces in Canis familiaris. Journal of Anatomy 164, 101-121

[vii] Lindner, DL, et.al. (1995). Measurement of bite force: A pilot study. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry 12. 49-52.

[viii] Lindner

Posted in Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Removing Breed Labels: Easier Than You Think

Guest post written by Kristen Auerbach, Interim Director of Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia.

About a month ago, Fairfax County Animal Shelter removed all breed labels from our adoption kennels. There was much discussion and debate prior to us making this decision. Would the public be confused? Angry? Would community members protest?

We were committed to being honest with potential adopters. If the dog they were interested in might be visually identified as a breed that faces restriction, we would make them aware that breed specific laws or housing rules could affect them.

But was that enough? Would taking breed labels off our kennels prove too disruptive to serve our purpose?

To our surprise, no one even asked why the kennel cards weren’t labeled with breeds.
We also learned that no matter what the kennel card says, potential adopters, volunteers and staff will make guesses. And they’re usually going to disagree with each other about those guesses.

Brownie and his new family

Brownie and his new family

We did notice an increase in people asking us about the breed of a particular dog. This turned out to be a good thing. The question provides the perfect opening for a staff person or volunteer to talk about the inaccuracy of breed labeling and the importance of getting to know each dog as an individual with its own unique personality traits.

Now that we’ve removed the labels from the kennel cards, we’ll be working with our shelter software system to remove the breed labels from our ‘adoptable’ pets list so dogs will be described only with their names, ages and personality profiles.

Our journey to do away with breed labels began about a year ago, when we stopped referring to dogs as ‘pit bulls’ or ‘Staffordshire terriers’ on our social media platforms. Between 2013 and 2014, adoptions of dogs visually identified as ‘pit bulls’ quadrupled and we knew we were on to something big. We talked about the individual dog’s personality, quirks, sociability with other dogs and people, but we stopped talking about breed.

We did this because we know the term ‘pit bull’ does not describe any breed of dog. Rather, it’s a subjective label that means different things to different people and has no basis in science or genetics. In our mission to get our adopters to see the dog not the label, and in the interest of full disclosure, the most honest thing we could do when describing our dogs was to simply say, “We don’t know what the breed or breed mix is.”

A happy new FCAS family

A happy new FCAS family


Things got a little more complicated when we stopped labeling all dogs, because we would all stand in front of a dog, and a staff member would say, “That IS a purebred Dachshund” or Rottweiler or whatever they thought it was. But, we asserted, the vast majority of dogs in our shelter are of mixed breed heritage and unless we have indisputable proof a dog came from a breeder and has a documented pedigree, we don’t know for sure. And even then, how does a breed label, any breed label help a dog get a home?

People are going to make their own visual breed identification whether it’s written on a kennel card or not. It simply isn’t necessary nor is it honest for us to present our guesses of any breed as if they are fact.

At our shelter, we’re having a lot of success focusing on the dog, not the perceived breed. But each animal welfare organization has its own challenges and in some places, not labeling is impossible because of breed specific legislation or breed-based adoption restrictions. What then?

It’s up to us, as advocates, no matter what our particular situation, to start explaining to people that breed labels are subjective, not based in science and that when we, as animal welfare professionals guess, we guess wrong at least 50% and often 75% of the time. We should be telling people that the vast majority of dogs in our shelters are mutts or mixed breeds and that the way they look says nothing reliable about their behavior.

Jasper and his new family

Jasper and his new family


If you are at a shelter or rescue where putting an end to breed labeling is a possibility, consider trying the following and tracking the results. You may be surprised at the immediate changes in your adoption numbers.

1. Stop using breed labels in social media posts. In some cases, a breed label gives your followers a quick reason to say no and keep scrolling. Instead, for a week, just tell the story of each particular dog. People love stories and it helps them connect with dogs they otherwise might be drawn to.

2. Remove the breed labels from your kennel cards for one week and see what happens. Make sure to spread the word to volunteers and staff so you can be on the same page with potential adopters.

3. Ask your shelter software provider if they can remove breed labels from adoptable dogs online. We use a provider that is able to remove the public labels on adoptable dogs (even though they will not remove the breed labels entirely).

4. Role play with staff and volunteers about how to respond when a visitor says, “What breed is it?” Not sure what to say? The truth works: “We’re not sure! The vast majority of our dogs are of mixed-breed origin and when we guess we are often wrong.”

5. It’s human nature to put things into categories and most of us label dogs by breed, even if it’s for a purely functional reason, like asking someone to, “Go adopt that Maltese.” Challenge yourself and your colleagues to find non-breed descriptors for your dogs.

It takes a lot of practice to break the breed labeling habit, but you can do it!

 

For more information on breed identification please see the National Canine Research Council’s website and the Animal Farm Foundation infographic, All Dogs Are Individuals.

And for more on Fairfax County Animal Shelter’s progressive and effective adoption policies, please see No Restrictions, Just Success.

 

 

Posted in Adoption and Marketing | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

From Shelter to Working K9: “Pit Bull” Dogs Keeping Communities Safe

It is the mission of Animal Farm Foundation to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs and in an effort to meet that mission, Animal Farm Foundation has formed a collaboration with Austin Pets Alive! and Universal K9 so that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can be considered for Detection Dog work, which is traditionally reserved for pure bred, purpose bred dogs.

Potential detection dog candidates are selected from the Austin Pets Alive! shelter system to participate in training led by Universal K9, located in San Antonio, Texas. Once there, Brad Croft founder of Universal K9, trains and places the dogs in police departments around the country at no charge. Animal Farm Foundation provides a sponsorship to Universal K9 to help cover the costs of the officer training. We recently had the chance to ask Brad a few questions about the program.

AFF: What are some of the things you train the dogs to do?

Brad: Universal K9 trains dogs for narcotics, explosives, cadaver, and arson detection. We also train dogs to track for criminal apprehension and have trained dogs for vapor detection as well.

K9 Loll and the Chief  of Barlette Texas PD

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

Can you tell our readers about the partnership between Universal K9 and Austin Pets Alive? When did you first get the idea to assess shelter dogs at APA! for your program?

I reached out to APA! and other local shelters about three years ago letting them know that I was seeking high drive dogs. Mike Kaviani, the Dog Behavior Program Manager at APA!, responded and I went out to test a few of their dogs. The ones I choose were all “pit bull” dogs. It can be challenging to place dogs that are labeled as “pit bulls” or “pit bull mixes,” because of misconceptions and prejudices, but I was able to find a couple of police departments early on that were open minded and I was able to place the dogs.

Has the response from police departments to “pit bull” detection dogs changed over the past 3 years? Are they more willing to accept them?

Many are still reluctant. But the sponsorship through AFF is helping to open some minds to the possibility of accepting a “pit bull” dog into their department.

What qualities are you looking for in a detection dog? If you transfer a dog from APA! for training, but it turns out they’re not a good fit, what happens to the dogs?

I look for dogs who are high drive, confident, and curious. If they’re strongly motivated by toys, that’s a plus. The dogs that don’t make it into the program are adopted out through us or APA!

K9 Libby

K9 Libby

It seems there is a common misconception by both the public and the working dog industry that dogs can’t be working K9s unless they are a specific breed or bred for the purpose of law enforcement work. In your experience, have you found that shelter dogs are just as capable of doing the work?

Any dog that has the drive, confidence, and desire to work can do it! Breed does not dictate a dog’s ability to work. I personally have a mutt – I have no idea what breed mix she is – but she is the best working dog I have ever come across! She can find narcotics and track people better than any “typical” police dog I’ve ever seen.

How many “pit bull” dogs have you placed with law enforcement? Can you tell us about one or two of these placements and the work they’re currently doing in their communities?

At this point we’ve trained and placed about 10 “pit bull” dogs with law enforcement agencies around the country. There are two dogs that really stand out right now.

K9 Ruby

K9 Ruby

K9 Libby with the Montgomery County, TX Constables was recently featured in People Magazine and has been dubbed “The World’s Raddest Police Dog” across social media for her work.  K9 Ruby with the Chattahoochee Hills Police Department in GA made her first bust this month. Both dogs have their own Facebook pages and have lots of fans cheering them on!

Both are performing very well and making a huge difference in the communities in which they serve. It’s really awesome and I’m very happy to be a small part of it.

Thank you Brad for being much more than a small part in this important work!

To learn more about the detection dog program, please visit our website.

 

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Prince George’s County: High Price Paid For Failed Breed Ban

In May of 2015, Animal Farm Foundation transported 6 “pit bull” dogs from Prince George’s County in Maryland to our shelter in New York. The dogs are well behaved, friendly, play well with other dogs, and are healthy. So why did they need to be transported 300+ miles instead of being adopted out of their Maryland shelter?

Because they live in a county that still has an archaic breed ban in place. These dogs, all of varying appearances, behaviors, and breed mixes, were all perceived to be “pit bull” dogs and are therefore illegal in Prince George’s County. This means they cannot be adopted out of shelters. There are only two outcomes for these dogs: death or transport to a safe jurisdiction.

Cindy 5

Cindy, identified as a “pit bull” dog, cannot be adopted out from Prince George’s County Animal Services due to this breed label. She’s one of six dogs transported to Animal Farm Foundation in NY.

Prince George’s County’s animal services staff work hard to arrange the latter outcome. Each day numerous dogs subjectively identified at “pit bulls” are brought into their shelter. None of them are allowed on the adoption floor. Many are dogs that were loved family pets taken straight from their homes. They were seized not because they did anything wrong, but simply because of their appearance or breed label. Now these family pets are wards of the system.

The staff spends their time and resources making sure that these family dogs have a chance at a fair and humane outcome – adoption – by arranging transports around the country. AFF recently sponsored Aimee Sadler’s Dogs Playing For Life! training for the staff to help them enrich the lives of the dogs in their care and to assist in identifying transport candidates.

During her recent training, Sadler wasn’t surprised to see that there were many “pit bull” dogs that were “rock stars” in the play groups. Calls went out to shelters around the region to help get these highly adoptable dogs out of danger and into adoption programs. AFF and Fairfax County Animal Shelter were two of the organizations that pulled numerous dogs after seeing Sadler’s play group footage.

Each of the 6 dogs pulled from Prince George's County is an individual. Their beahvior and appearance varies. When someone decied to label Leo, seen here, a "pit bull" dog, he became illegal in PG County. He is now at Animal Farm Foudnation in NY.

The behavior and appearance of the 6 dogs from Maryland varies. When someone decided to label Leo (seen here) a “pit bull” dog, he became illegal in PG County. He is now at Animal Farm Foundation in NY.

Rodney Taylor, the director of Prince George’s County’s animal services facility, publicly opposes the ban for many reasons. The Huffington Post reports that the shelter has a “live release rate” of only 64 percent. This is not a reflection on the shelter’s policies or approach to adoptions. The high euthanasia rate is largely due to the law that bans them from adopting out any dog that is labeled a “pit bull.” The euthanasia rate would be even higher, if the staff didn’t work so hard to make transports a daily reality.

But until the ban is removed by lawmakers or struck down in court, the shelter will be stuck with a live release rate that falls far short of what progressive adoption centers, in areas without breed bans, are attaining. As Rodney told Huff Post, “Such beautiful dogs come in and we can’t adopt them to families that want to adopt them.”

There are no facts or experts to back up the retention of this ineffective, inhumane law. In 2003, Prince George’s County authorized a task force to examine the results of their ban, in place since 1996. The Task Force reported that the ban was ineffective, has a negative impact on public safety, stretches animal control and sheltering resources thin, and costs approximately a half million dollars a year to enforce. That’s right, a half million a year.

What do all 6 of these dogs have in common? Based on how they looked, they were given the label "pit bull" and banned from

Luke (seen here) and the others from PG County enjoy playing with other dogs and people. Despite this, they are banned from the adoption floors in PG County because of their breed label.

In the fiscal year 2001-2002, costs due to “pit bull” dog confiscations totaled $560,000. And that doesn’t even touch the amount of money needed to cover the expenses for utilities, manpower, and overtime spent caring for the dogs. You can read the full report here.

Of course, that was 14 years ago. If we do some simple math and assume that the numbers remain the same, that’s $560,000 a year multiplied by 14 years, which means the current total spent enforcing a ban that doesn’t work could potentially be estimated at: $7,840,000.

The tax payers are footing this enormous bill for a law that does not increase public safety. Tax payers are footing the bill for a law that tears innocent dogs away from loving families. And they’re paying for a law that strains their shelter system and animal control services by misdirecting their time and resources to addressing a crisis that need not exist.

What’s the alternative?

If the breed ban was repealed, that money could be used to enforce effective breed neutral dangerous dog laws. The very ones the 2003 Task Force recommended. Animal control would no longer need to waste their time seizing safe family pets and instead could focus on addressing problem dog owners (of any breed) thereby truly making the county safe for all of its citizens. Animal services wouldn’t have to make kennel space for loved dogs freshly torn away from their families. And instead they could use their time and resources to do what shelters are meant to do: help the dogs that are truly homeless, evaluating them as individuals, and finding them new families within their county.

In 2009, after the shelter spent 12 million to build a new shelter, Taylor stated that, “There’s one goal: to become the number one shelter in the nation.” Six years later, with a 64% live release rate and the breed ban still being in effect, Prince George’s County animal services is lagging far behind other shelters nationwide. No matter how hard they work, the ban prevents them from ever being able to achieve their goal.

Suzy, Monaco, Dessta, and the rest of the dogs are banned from the adoption floor in PG County. Seen here enjoying hanging out with the interns at Animal Farm Foundation.

Suzy, Monaco, Dessta, and the rest of the dogs transported to NY, all banned in PG County, are seen here enjoying a summer day with the interns at Animal Farm Foundation.

The breed ban in Prince George’s County is an ineffective and expensive mistake. It is time-consuming and nearly impossible to enforce. It is incompatible with progressive animal sheltering policies. It perpetuates myths, hysteria and fear. It suggests we can accurately identify a dog’s breed based on their looks and that a dog’s breed is an accurate predictor of behavior. And, because of all of this, the ban jeopardizes everyone’s safety by misdirecting money, resources, and time.

Breed Specific Legislation denies every resident of Prince George’s County the opportunity to live in a safe, humane community.

When will lawmakers listen to the task force recommendations, given more than a decade ago, and finally remove this failed legislation? When will they free up those wasted millions of dollars to fund breed neutral laws that are proven to keep communities safe? Change must happen now. There’s no more time or money to waste for the families of Prince George’s County.

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Breed Identification, Labels, and Perceptions Revisited

The following is an updated version of a blog posted in 2013.

In 2015, we’re still being asked: What role should breed – breed identification and breed labeling – play in today’s animal shelters?

Thanks to years of research we all know about the inaccuracy of breed labeling based on visual inspection, so perhaps the question should be: Why aren’t more shelters removing breed labeling?

In 2014, Orange County Animal Services (OCAS) in Florida, removed breed labels from its kennel cards and website. A year later OCAS, a municipal shelter, has seen an increase in adoptions. The same goes for Capital Area Humane Society in Lansing, Michigan where breed was removed from their kennel cards. Instead the cards focus on sharing information about the individual dog. Progressive shelters can and do remove breed labels…without any backlash from the public.

cahs kennel card

But why bother?

Because too many dogs are mislabeled with inaccurate guesses, too many assumptions and predictions about behavior are made based on behavior traits associated with the assigned breed label, and too many dogs are unfairly penalized for the breed label they’re given. Shelters need to recognize and work to counter this.

When shelters label dogs of unknown origin they are making a guess. But that’s not how adopters interpret the label. They perceive the breed label as fact. And in our society, we still equate breed label with implied behavior. So adopters are being (unintentionally) mislead into thinking that the label means something about the dog’s behavior. But that just isn’t the case. Our guesses at breed label are not accurate predictors of anything.

Shelters can and should be more clear with the public, so that our guesses at breed are not interpreted as accurate predictors of behavior.

We also know that the context in which we present dogs to the public shapes how they are perceived, this includes breed label and setting. In Lisa Gunter’s 2012 study, it was confirmed that the setting in which we view dogs – in particular, who is standing next to them – can dramatically influence how people perceive the dogs. So the context in which we view all dogs (not just “pit bull” dogs), shapes how potential adopters perceive the dogs.

Our job is to help the public see the dog that’s right in front of them.

That means helping them see the individual dog, free of prejudice, stereotypes, and assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, physical appearance, or their past history.

While some shelters continue to guess at breeds or sink resources into DNA testing their dogs (note that even a DNA test on a mixed breed dog doesn’t predict behavior), the sustainable solution isn’t that we need to get better or work harder at identifying breeds or breed labeling the dogs. It’s to focus on seeing all dogs as individuals.

get to know dogs


 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

It can be a challenge for all of us to think outside the breed box, so we’d like to address some common questions and concerns. Here are our most frequently asked questions regarding breed and breed traits in animal shelters:

Isn’t it important to know a dog’s breed, so we can share their breed traits and then adopters will know what to expect? Aren’t breed traits just more information to share with adopters?

Breed traits most certainly exist. However, how breed traits present themselves in dogs, particularly in mixed breed dogs of unknown origins (the majority of dogs found in our shelter system), varies tremendously. Therefore, a guess at how a breed trait may or may not manifest itself in a dog is not nearly as reliable as the information shelters can gather by observing the dogs in their care. If you observe breed traits, share them with the adopter. If you don’t observe them, don’t assume they’re there.

Please note that breed traits don’t apply to mixed breed dogs. Mixed breed dogs are not any breed of dog at all. Pure breed dogs are bred from closed gene pools. Mixed breed dogs are not from closed or coherent gene pools and cannot be considered a member of any breed. They have more in common genetically with ALL dogs, then any one breed in particular.

And remember that breed is just one part of any individual dog – as is their socialization, training, genetics, environment, etc. Traits related to breed are not the whole dog. The whole dog is the individual. Breed traits are a just a possible slice of the pie.

No matter what a dog’s breed or mix may be, when we give equal or more weight to breed traits, rather than focusing on what we’ve observed about a dog’s individual needs, we can hinder their chances at a successful match. Get to know the whole dog.

AFF_infographic_FINAL-01

When dogs are improperly identified, do we cause problems for the adopters and/or the dogs? Will adopters think we’re trying pass off “pit bull” dogs as other breeds and stop trusting us?

We believe that honesty is the best policy. The majority of dogs in shelters are mixed breed dogs. Research tells us that visual identification of mixed breed dogs is highly inaccurate. Unless you know what a dog’s breed mix is for sure – you know the parents or have paperwork – speculating about the possible breed mix is just a guess.

If you wish to be 100% completely honest with your adopters, tell them the truth: you aren’t sure what the breed mix might be. Most importantly, tell them the truth about the dog’s actual behavior based on your observations and evaluations. Remember, people are adopting a DOG, not a breed. How that dog behaves is the key to a good match for potential adopters.

If the adopters notice physical markings or certain behaviors that lead them to believe a dog might be a certain breed (for example: a black mark on the dog’s tongue has them guessing he might be a Chow mix), be honest in your response by acknowledging that it is a possibility. Here’s an example of how you might respond: “Yes, it is possible this dog might have some Chow in there, though we don’t know for sure. How do you feel about that? Would that be ok with your landlord?”

If you’re concerned about someone else (an insurance company, Animal Control, etc.) identifying the dog as a “pit bull”, let the adopters know this is a possibility and determine how that may affect them legally. Be aware of any potential breed restrictions in your community and give resources to educate your adopters about these realities.

Share what you know for sure and be clear about what’s a guess. They will appreciate your honesty.

Lots of the dogs we see have the characteristics of a “pit bull”, so shouldn’t they be identified as a pit bull or pit mix?

To begin with, there is no agreed upon or standard definition of a “pit bull.” The phrase “pit bull” means something different to everyone and varies from one shelter to the next. So, the use of that label, “pit bull” is subjective – it’s an opinion, not a breed or a fact.

If all you have is a visual inspection and no pedigree, then you’re guessing at a dog’s breed or breed mix when you choose to label them as “pit bulls”. You can label the dogs however you choose, but be careful not to make behavior predictions based on this guess and don’t imply to adopters that a label accurately indicates anything about a dog’s suitability for adoption or what kind of home he needs.

The label doesn’t change the dog, but often the labels will change how we perceive the dog.

Each dog is an individual. Help adopters to see past labels and get to know the dog’s actual pet qualities.

Should we DNA test the dogs in our shelter to find out?

No, we do not recommend that shelters give their dogs DNA tests to determine its breed or breed mix. Dog behavior is a complex mix of nature and nurture and knowing a dog’s DNA is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s just another tool in the toolbox. Shelters are in the business of adopting out companion animals and the only way to know if a dog is going to be a good companion is to get to know that individual dog. Shelters are better off spending their time and money getting to know the dogs in their care.

We want to call our dogs of unknown origins “mixed breed” or “American Shelter Dogs”, but the shelter software doesn’t give us that option. How should we label the dogs?

You may be forced to pick a primary breed in shelter software, but you can make other notes on their profiles that explain that this is just a guess. We use this language on Petfinder:

The petfinder.com system requires that we choose a predominant breed or breed mix for our dogs. Visual breed identification in dogs is unreliable so for most of the dogs we are only guessing at predominant breed or breed mix. We get to know each dog as an individual and will do our best to describe each of our dogs based on personality, not by breed label.

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Feel free to copy and use it! We even have free posters and kennel cards with this info to help get the conversation going with adopters.

In 2015 Hillsborough County Animal Services Pet Resource Center in Florida created large, weather-proof banners with this information to help adopters understand that the labels they see are just guesses.


In the past, we thought that we needed to get better at breed labeling dogs, but Dr. Voith’s research showed us that we cannot get better at it. And Dr. Marder and Janis Bradley taught us that there is behavior variability within each breed, and even more among breed mixes, so that we cannot predict a dog’s behavior based on breed alone.

It’s clear that rather than trying to get better at guessing dog breed labels, the focus should be on gathering information about each individual dog as a whole. If shelters do choose to breed label dogs, they must make it clear to the public that they cannot accurately predict future behaviors based on those labels.

Put the focus on getting to know the dogs. What we discover about a dog’s personality will be far more valuable to adopters than any label.

Posted in Adoption and Marketing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Keeping Pets with Their Families: Pit Sisters Mobile Dog Training Program

Here at Animal Farm Foundation our grants program is constantly evolving to keep up with the changing needs in animal welfare. Where in the past we funded exclusively to “pit bull” specific programs, today our focus has shifted towards granting to programs that are inclusive of “pit bull” dogs, but are not exclusive to them. This approach reflects the many changes in animal welfare we’ve been a part of over the past two decades.

Today, programs that treat all dogs as individuals are the path to a better future for ALL dogs. One of the types of programs we’re most happy to see are ones in which a safety net is created for all pets within the community through the offering of a variety of owner support services.

Pit Sisters, one of grant award recipients, is doing just that! Their unique pilot program, Mobile Training, is offered in targeted areas of Jacksonville, FL where the highest rate of pet surrenders are generated from. Their Mobile Training Program provides dog training at no cost to the owners, so that families can keep their dogs at home, where they are wanted and loved, rather than surrendering them due to training issues.

We had the chance to talk with Jennifer Deane, founder of Pit Sisters, about their program.

AFF: Can you tell our readers about how the mobile training program works?

Pit Sisters: We work in partnership with two of our local shelters to determine the areas of town to focus in. We target the areas that have the highest numbers of dogs turned in to the shelters and we offer free training for families and their dogs. We constructed a book of training tips in conjunction with several area training experts that are easy to use and have lots of ideas for inexpensive solutions, including a treat suggestion sheet and toy suggestion sheet using everyday items.

Why did Pit Sisters decide to focus on supporting this particular area (dog training) of the human-canine bond in your community?

We decided to focus on training because we were receiving lots of emails from families who wanted to keep their dogs, but the dogs needed training. Hiring a trainer can be expensive and we know how important building the bond between the family and the family dog(s) is, so we decided to focus on training. There are no programs like ours in our community, so we felt that we could fill a gap with a much-needed service.

IMG_0417

Your program does a great job of viewing all dogs and their families as individuals – no stereotypes or judgement allowed! Instead, you focus on getting to know their individual needs, so you can better address whatever issues might be barriers to the dogs staying in their homes.

How has that approach been helpful for you and your clients? Can you share how you’ve built trust between your program/trainers and the community you’re serving?

Building trust has been the most challenging part and we continue to work on that. I think what helps a lot is our partnerships with our local shelters and other animal welfare organizations, as well as local businesses. They help us to get the word out by distributing information and telling people about the program. One of the low cost animal clinics even gave us coupons for a free office visit for participants in our program. This is approach works incredibly well. All of our trainers have caring, nonjudgmental attitudes, and as such are well received by the community.

Can you share a success story with us?

Sure! We had a family with two dogs come to us – one of the dogs was highly reactive to other dogs and the other had separation anxiety. When we met the owners they were frustrated and didn’t know what to do. And they couldn’t afford to pay a trainer. Because of our program, they were able to get the help they needed. Our mobile trainer gave them advice and worked with both dogs. We met with the family for quite a bit and watched them practice the techniques that we taught them and then we followed up with them to see how things were going. The dogs are doing much better and the family is volunteering with us now as well!

IMG_0326

If someone wanted to start a similar program in their community, what advice would you give them?

Form strong relationships with your local animal shelters and animal welfare organizations! Pit Sisters would like to help others start similar programs, so we’re willing to talk to anyone who may be interested in starting their own program. They can email us at sisters@pitsisters.org for more information.

 

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Thank you for talking with us Jen and for the great work you’re doing in your community! For more information about Pit Sisters, please visit their website. And for information about our Grants program, please visit the Animal Farm Foundation site.

 

Posted in Enrichment and Training, Programs and Events | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments